Ed’s housewarming was a success. So successful it was broken up by police… who were honestly very friendly and not very scary at all. M. again (I think for the 5th time?) said she would “definately” come to an event of mine and did not… stranding several others who were relying on her for a ride. M. had insisted on clearing things with the landlord. It’s funny, cause my landlord is the one who told me to move it down the street, to an outdoor (?!?!) area he set up in front of his company’s building… and that’s where we got the complaint… not inside my apartment where we were loud and stuffed to capacity… and where I had taken care to warn all the neighbors in advance… This is yet another reason never to ask if anything is “OK” to do in Japan. It’s usually much easier to apologize after, if there’s a problem, than to prepare in the absurd manner they usually instruct you if you ask, “Is this OK?”
It’s like the time Chris and I went to the baggage check in Kyoto station. We asked if a bag can be left overnight. “No.” Was the succinct reply, but out of curiosity, we asked what happened to bags left after closing. We asked, for example, “Is there a fine? Do you throw out the baggage?” The reply was “No. You can have the bag back as usual the next day.” So… you can leave your bag overnight as long as you don’t ask about leaving it overnight. Right.
Since returning from Thailand, there has been an excessive feeling of discontent growing in me about this country. I’ve spent long hours discussing the many, the multifaceted, the absurd, the often comical, sometimes tragic problems of living in this country with a wide array of people… Something I haven’t done since my days in Wadayama, where it was clear even to myself at the time that the real problem was a crap job in a crap town full of crap people. A year has passed since I moved to Toyooka, my little haven on the Japan sea, where I spent a rather blissful little year achieving goals, enjoying my work as a teacher for the first time, making lots of friends and generally doing whatever I damn well pleased. The relative “goodness” in my life for the past year should be obvious enough in the significantly reduced number of entries in the blog – home of my seething, venting, impotent rage. I can remember exploring, out on a run just after moving into my new Toyooka apartment, and finding a place that seemed very magical. I asked the resident God there for a good year. Looking back, it seems to me that my wish was granted.
Now, however, despite a much bigger apartment, a raise in the pay grade, senior status at work, a more competent co-worker, a smoother running, cleaner school to work in, and millions of other bounties bestowed upon me for the coming school year, I find myself suddenly grouchy. Of course, I had originally planned to leave around this time, and I believe my original estimation of how much Japan I could stand was fairly accurate. It doesn’t seem to matter how much wonderfulness Japan throws my way now: I have had “enough.”
In my first adult class since coming back, me and my adult students somehow ended up on the topic of world religions. I quizzed them about Shinto, which nobody seems able to tell me much about, despite it being Japan’s only indigenous religion… that they could not explain the significance of Japan’s holiest place, Isse Shrine, to me (in either language) was no real surprise, or at least not compared to the ignorance that followed. When asked, they told me that the Buddha (as in, Siddhartha), lived in China “maybe.” They did not know who Confucius was, and told me that Jesus Christ was born “somewhere in Europe.” They did not know of a country called Israel, did not know it was a “Jewish state…” They did not know a city named Jerusalem, forget about Bethlehem. In short, they were about as ignorant about world history and religion as an average American elementary school student.
Now, normally I just sort of laugh at this kind of thing and shake my head… I mean, I experienced “Japanese Education” first hand, and know it’s lack of concern with “factual and useful” information…even “information” of any kind. Also, someone recently showed me an Australian television program in which the hosts travel to America and manage to convince a wide aray of people on the street that monuments like the Great Wall of China, the Leaning Tower of Pisa – even Mount Rushmore for godsakes – are actually located in Australia… arguing, for instance, that Italy’s tower is a copy of the original Australian, which was built by “aboriginals,” or that China is “a small town outside Perth.” The sincerity of the duped is absolutely insulting… they actually get talked into planning their “dream trip,” using an absurd map with the monuments pasted on various parts Australia.
So, yes, obviously ignorance is not limited to Japan, and to be fair, I live far enough out that I’m mostly surrounded by the Japanese equivalent of Trailer-Trash (we usually say, “Paddy-Trash, or more commonly “Yellow-Trash”). So, why am I suddenly so prickly? The weather’s good, my friend lends me a gamecube to play to my hearts content (even better, a TV to play it on!), I have shows to play, parties to throw, classes to teach, everything should be fantastic… Why? I have toyed with several theories:
1. Was Thailand just that good? Did I suddenly realize what the real world is like? Well, Thailand was great. So great, that it’s just too precious to spoil in a journal entry. A place as beautiful as that has no equivalent in words. Of course, though, there were the peddlers… the rape of the natural… the obnoxious Irish, English, Australian, German, American tourists stomping all over the place like they own it… the knowledge that you’re being horribly ripped off on certain occasions…. yeah. It wasn’t so good that Japan should look like a trash heap.
2. Dogs And Demons by Alex Kerr. A fascinating book about the problems of modern Japan that I picked up in the airport and read non-stop on my trip… one that exposes some rather hideous sides to Japan’s socio-political and economic structure. It made me acutely aware of the Japanese people’s own complicit role in the near-total destruction of their country’s natural beauty, the downfall of what was once the world’s strongest economy, the reason for their shitty, uncomfortable homes and ugly, ugly, UGLY cities. Yes, pretty depressing. It didn’t give me best impression to come home to, and put lots of unpleasant things on my mind… but it alone was not enough to ruin the whole country for me… I even stopped reading it to attempt a better outlook, and the more I get out of Kerr’s argument, the more I see counter-examples and signs of improvement in my own experience.
3. Sino-Fatigue. This is a term I just made up right now to describe a feeling that otherwise has no name, but is a sort of un-namable “tiredness” of Japanese lifestlye, Japanese things, Japanese food, Japanese formalities, Japanese language, Japanese culture, et. al. It’s just so insular, that sometimes you just can’t help but hate it. It’s healthy. OK, sure, but I’ve experience that many times before. It comes and goes on a weekly basis. This is no mild grumbling. I actually experienced panic attacks for the first time since college, based on what I can only assume to be the overwhelmingly oppressive feeling Japan gives me at the moment. Fatigue does not account wholly for that.
The truth is, there’s a bit of all of these in my discontent, I’m sure, but I think the real truth is behind door number
4. I’m ready. Finally.
Simply put, Japan has been a way to do what I could not do at home. Put the pieces back together, get my identity back, stop destroying myself and actuallyl DO stuff… excercise a little self control… you know, all kinds of things… but now, finally, I’m ready. I’m all growed up and ready to leave the womb. I’m not just ready, I’m itching to get out. I’m clawing at the walls. Good thing I wont be here much longer… but sometimes a handfull of months feels MUCH longer than it should… I don’t know. I know that today, I had a beautiful day up at the airport, throwing the frisbee with friends, bathing at my favorite hotspring in Kinosaki and taking in a fine dinner at a beautifully cluttered restaurant with Joe, who I hadn’t seen in “a coon’s age.”
On the ride home, a beautiful, crystal clear full moon rose up through the steamy clouds and I thought of the enormousness of space, and all that dead, lifeless matter drifting aimless through it. I thought how impossibly fortunate even the lowliest human being is… all creation laid at our feet… all of us sleeping, eating, working, ignoring each other, picking fights, fucking. I thought of how totally ignorant of our blessings all 6 n some odd billion of us are… and how necessary such ignorance is. To understand it is to be paralyzed by awe… to fall to the ground in wonder and die of starvation before we could be capable of crawling to our feet and making our way through the world again.